On saying ‘No’ to great ideas

By: Jonathan Guerrera In: Achieving Goals 5 Jun 2012

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”

– Steve Jobs

Prior to the Digital Age, we had much less competing for our attention. There was no Facebook, mail took time to arrive at its destination, and conversations were limited to land-line telephones and face-to-face communication.

The world is quite different today. I’ve written extensively on the need to simplify and escape the treadmill of blog posts, tweets, status updates and web content that can drown us in information overload, but it wasn’t until I heard Lot18′s President and Co-founder, Philip James, refer to Steve Job’s quote above that I truly understood why it’s so hard for us to simplify in the Digital Age:

There are too many amazing ideas out there.

Let’s say you’re interested in entrepreneurship, and you’ve just discovered an inspiring TechCrunch article on starting your own company, which you promptly read. But wait! Through this article, you discover four links to more information about entrepreneurship from credible, respected sources. These could take you hours to pour through – each containing dozens of hyperlinks pointing to other articles and essays – but it would seem crazy to ignore all of these relevant, well-written articles. So you add them to your reading list. Day-by-day, this reading list grows until you start to feel overwhelmed. Before you know it, analysis paralysis begins and your initial enthusiasm for entrepreneurship begins to dwindle. This is the process many of us go through when we encounter too much information in too short a time period.

The same process occurs when we set goals. Like many of the readers of this blog who are interested in personal development, I’ve read books on personal finance, networking, physical fitness, nutrition, entrepreneurship, and more. Through these books, I’ve accumulated a list of goals that would take 10 lifetimes to accomplish. It’s simply too much. The problem is each and every one of these goals could easily be seen as important for my future success and happiness; they’re all incredibly worthwhile goals.

How do we handle such situations? How do we stay laser-focused?

Allow me to refer back to the quote at the top of this post: The definition of ‘focus’ in today’s world is about finding what matters more than anything in the world and saying no to the hundred other great ideas right in front of you.

Do you have five ambitious, worthwhile goals for the next few months? Pick one and excel at it like no one believed you ever could.

Do you have 20 blogs you read every week? Trim it to three.

Do you want to lose fat, build muscle, and run a marathon all in one year? Slow down there tiger; trying to do all of those at once will likely ensure you do a terrible job at all three.

Do you want to travel the world for five years after you graduate AND start a family before you’re 25? Both are great goals to set, but they’re simply not compatible; you must choose one.

I think you’re starting to get the idea. Saying no to great ideas takes discipline, and it will hurt at first. But the reality is that too many great ideas can be just as dangerous as none.

You have a choice to make.

Today’s world has so many great ideas and opportunities readily available, it feels almost silly to cut yourself off from them. But you must. Do it for the sake of your health and happiness; trying to do too many things at once is quite stressful. Additionally, do it for your future success; it’s better to be the best in the world at one thing, rather than mediocre at five things.

The question still remains: what do you have the courage to say ‘no’ to?

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  • http://twitter.com/melphd Melanie Wilson, Ph.D

    This is my biggest problem and it’s more complicated than it seems. Say I decide to focus on finishing my novel. Great! When I finish my novel, how will I market it? I should have a blog following so I can market to them. How can I have a blog following? By establishing myself on Facebook, Twitter, Stumble Upon, and Pinterest. How can I establish myself on these social media platforms? I need to read more ebooks, do webinars, take a class in CSS. It never ends! 



I'm Jon Guerrera, a life hacker at heart, and the man behind the scenes here at Living For Improvement. This blog documents all of my successes, failures, and lessons learned as I hack my way to happiness and fulfillment.


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